Planetary Protection (PP) is a scientific discipline that aims to protect other celestial bodies from microorganisms found on Earth by preventing forward and backward contamination. Forward contamination is bringing life from Earth to a given celestial body and backward contamination is preventing contamination of eventual sample return missions from Mars back to Earth. PP verifies that NASA Planetary Protection requirements are met in part via the NASA Standard Assay in order to support the launch approval process and to comply with international law. The NASA Standard Assay verifies these bioburden requirements by quantifying any aerobic, heterotrophic, and heat-shock resistant isolates.

ATP analysis is also used to prescreen surfaces for biological cleanliness. The more cells present on a surface, the higher the ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) levels. To test for levels of ATP the NASA handbook recommends the Kikkoman HSPlus kit, which uses the firefly protein/enzyme combination of luciferin and luciferase to produce light proportional to the levels of ATP present. Kikkoman, a Japanese based company, manufactures the reagents for this analysis and ordering these reagents is a long lead item (8 weeks)! To potentially circumvent the long lead time a US commercially available device and reagent set (Promega) was compared to the currently employed Kikkoman system.




James Nick Benardini

Lab site

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Funding Acknowledgement

This material is based upon work supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0952013. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation or the National Science Foundation. This project has also been made possible with support of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The STAR program is administered by the Cal Poly Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (CESaME) on behalf of the California State University (CSU).

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